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South Korea says new cruise missile can strike North as regional tensions rise

South Korean Navy via Reuters

A South Korean navy destroyer launches a cruise missile during a drill at an undisclosed location. The country says its new missile can strike anywhere in North Korea.

SEOUL -- South Korea sent a stern warning to North Korea on Thursday, two days after the North tested a nuclear bomb, saying it could strike the isolated state if it believed an attack was imminent as it deployed a new cruise missile to drive home its point.

South Korean officials declined to say the exact range of the missile but said it could hit targets anywhere in North Korea.

The United States and its allies are pushing for new sanctions at the U.N. Security Council aimed at slowing North Korea's nuclear and long-range missile development. 

South Korean navy via Reuters

A new South Korean cruise missile hits a target during a navy drill at an undisclosed location. The Defense Ministry warned that the missile could strike targets in North Korea.

North Korea on Thursday repeated its warning that any further sanctions would provoke it into taking firmer action, and Seoul warned that it would strike if attacked. South Korea has already relaxed rules allowing troops on the border to return fire directly without seeking permission from the army chiefs. 

Japan, which has little capacity to strike at the North if threatened by an attack because of the constraints of its pacifist constitution, said it had the right to develop such capability in response to changes in the regional security situation -- but had no plan to do so at present.

"When an intention to attack Japan is evident, the threat is imminent, and there are no other options, Japan is allowed under the law to carry out strikes against enemy targets," Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said in an interview. 

South Korea's Defense Ministry released video footage of the missiles being launched from destroyers and submarines and striking mock targets. The weapon was previewed in April last year and officials said deployment was now complete.

"The cruise missile being unveiled today is a precision-guided weapon that can identify and strike the window of the office of North Korea's leadership," ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok told reporters.

North Korea has forged ahead with long-range missile development, successfully launching a rocket in December that put a satellite into orbit.

Early readings of North Korea's nuclear test Monday show it was three to six times more powerful than any tests from that country before. President Obama is calling it "a highly provocative act." NBC's Jim Miklaszewski reports.

The North's ultimate aim, Washington believes, is to design an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead that could hit the United States.

North Korea, technically still at war with the South after their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, carried out its third nuclear test on Tuesday, drawing condemnation from around the world, including its only major ally, China.

The test and the threat of more unspecified actions from Pyongyang have raised tensions on the Korean peninsula as the South prepares to inaugurate a new president on Feb. 25.

"The situation prevailing on the Korean peninsula at present is so serious that even a slight accidental case may lead to an all-out war which can disturb the whole region," North Korea's official KCNA news agency said.

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